- Adeus Maria Fulo – Os Mutantes
- Turn! Turn! Turn! – The Byrds
- In Another Land – Rolling Stones
- Heart Failed (In the Back of a Taxi) – Saint Etienne
- Femme Fatale – The Velvet Underground
- Harmonic Generator – The Datsuns
- Incense and Peppermints – Strawberry Alarm Clock
- Good Fortune – PJ Harvey
- Willow’s Song – Magnet
- A Man Needs to be Told – The Charlatans
- Old Man – Neil Young
- Everything Flows – Teenage Fanclub
- For You – Big Star
- Hanging Around the Day – The Polyphonic Spree
- Journey to the Center of the Mind – The Amboy Dukes
- Freddie’s Dead – Curtis Mayfield
- Sing This All Together – Rolling Stones
- Citadel – Rolling Stones
- Lonesome Tears – Beck
- LA Women – The Doors
- The Girls I Knew Somewhere – The Monkees
- Let’s Make this Precious – Dexy’s Midnight Runners
- Trees – Pulp
On arriving in Bangkok, late November 2002, I purchased a pair of small, cheap speakers through which to play my old Sony Walkman – a 'Walkman' because I did not want to run the risk of damaging or losing my MiniDisc player and so dug out my old Sony tape player to take instead. I brought along only a couple of tapes, including an extended copy of Come On Let's Go. I utilised this apparatus just once, in Haad Yao on the Island of Koh Phangan, before deciding that lugging these trashy amplifiers in my undersized backpack really wasn't worth the bother and leaving them behind in the next hotel room I vacated. In any case, it was becoming clear to me that a soundtrack of sorts was writing itself, for better or for worse, and I would need to compile something from scratch when I got back to Blighty.
There were perhaps four artistes that prevailed during my travels: The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, and The Doors. I can't stand the Red Hot Chili Peppers, can take or leave Bob Marley, don't mind a bit of Hendrix, quite like The Doors. Beyond that, what you heard predominantly was dance or 'chill out' music. Very occasionally something else would break on through, maybe via a television in an internet cafe or in a bar off the beaten track. I started taking notes, but when it came to collating this material I found I hadn’t accumulated nearly enough to compile a playlist of the requisite length. I was thus obliged to source tunes from elsewhere; my compilation would have to represent the whole of the year 2003 and not just what of it that was given over to travelling.
The friend who passed out in Debenhams ended his travels prematurely, returning in early January. My lady-friend and I came home in April as planned. By the end of May we’d located to a flat on Gibson Close off of Bridge Road on the border of Hounslow and Isleworth. Natural light was in short supply, as was furniture, but Douglas Bader House was a clean and decent sized dwelling. The Royal Oak was our new local, a traditional pub that I’d frequented often during my first year at university and sporadically since. With its low ceiling festooned in rugby memorabilia, it was one of the cosiest pubs in the whole of West London. (Unfortunately, it has now been heavily refurbished, its heart and soul ruthlessly extricated.)
Having exhausted the supply at Hounslow's library, I decided to defect to Richmond's. One of my first withdrawals was Os Mutantes by Os Muntantes. I‘d read about them in a magazine – more than likely ‘Mojo’ – and they sounded right up my street, offering up ‘tropical psychedelic rock’. Looking back, I'm surprised I chose to begin my compilation with a tune with no direct link to my long holiday (although an erroneous association has since formed), but once it finally kicks in Adeus Maria Fulo come across like a statement of intent.
The inclusion of Turn! Turn! Turn! by The Byrds was inspired by the five weeks spent in New Zealand. I heard it there on numerous occasions, nearly always on a nearby radio. It's not my favourite Byrds tune by any means, but I can picture myself listening to it in a hostel in Taupo to this very day. Moreover, it inspired me on my return home to give the album Mr. Tambourine Man a proper listen and to acquire other albums by The Byrds thereafter.
A common friend who owned a flat in Lynton, North Devon, offered the property for a shared holiday: to myself, my lady friend, the guy who used to own a pager, and his female companion. As well as evenings in The Crown, games of crazy-golf in Lynmouth, night walks to the Beggars Roost and hikes across Exmoor, we spanned time listening to music and playing table football in the flat itself. I can’t recall which tunes I brought along, but the guy with the pager came up trumps, providing the Rolling Stones' albums Their Satanic Majesties Request and Beggars Banquet. So taken was I with Satanic Majesties that no less than three tracks made it onto Journey to the Center of the Mind, which is unprecedented. In Another Land was written by Bill Wyman, and hats off to him, not just for the quality of the song but for managing to get his track past Jagger and Richards.
White Sands Beach on Koh Chang. At the shore’s southern point there is a restaurant called Thor's with a splendid view over the Gulf Of Thailand. We dined there thrice, and on each occasion the same ambient/chill-out compilation played out in the background. Catching the dulcet tones of Sarah Cracknell, I asked ‘Thor’ if he/she could provide me with the track listing, which he/she did, and Heart Failed (In the Back of a Taxi) was duly noted. The Saint Etienne album it’s taken from (Sound of Water) has a more ambient feel than their earlier work, but Heart Failed could have sat quite easily on 1993's So Tough.
Like Os Mutantes, The Velvet Underground & Nico was another post-travel acquisition loaned from Richmond Library. I must confess that when I'd borrowed the same cassette during my first year at university, from the guy with the indie tapes, it had been mainly because I wanted a copy of Venus in Furs, and I never gave it the attention it deserved. The album is actually a fairly even split between experimental and slightly discordant songs – such as Venus in Furs and All Tomorrow's Parties – and more mainstream moments – such as I'll be Your Mirror and Femme Fatale. I would have preferred to have included All Tomorrow's Parties on this compilation but at 6 minutes it was just too long. Femme Fatale, on the other hand, lasts a mere 2 minutes 38 seconds.
The Datsuns emerged out of the post-punk thing that The Strokes kicked off (although credit should perhaps also go to Swedish band The Hives who'd nailed their colours to the mast a whole year before The Stokes did). I bought Harmonic Generator as a CD single, deprived as I was of access to a record player. Before embarking on my travels, I'd left most of my possessions with my brother and told him that if he was pushed for space he could ditch the hi-fi but should keep hold of my speakers. In the intervening period he moved from Acton to Wandsworth and was indeed pushed for space. The garage rock revival of The Datsuns compliments the authentic garage rock of Strawberry Alarm Clock, courtesy of the ex-cohabitant from Brighton. Neither track was heard on my travels.
I noticed when Polly Harvey adopted a, shall we say, more glamorous image to accompany her new single, Good Fortune, in late 2000. I should have more than noticed, I should have bought the album Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea. If you’re not aware of it, the video for Good Fortune sees PJ Harvey nocturnally flitting around London in a black dress. The cover of the album saw her in a similar get-up, this time swanning around what looks to be New York. One only notices because PJ Harvey didn’t ordinarily wear stuff like this. She’d previously presented either a rather austere image or a very garish one: black leather with no makeup; luminous dresses and jumpsuits with lots of makeup. I allude to all this because whilst drinking in an ‘Irish pub’ in Koh Samui the video for Good Fortune appeared, courtesy of MTV, on the modest television hanging off the wall. I allude to this because at the time I was feeling slightly out of sorts, stuck in Lamai, surrounded by expats and sex tourists, drinking pints of imported draught lager with my Cornish friend. PJ Harvey came to me as some sort of vision, not so much of loveliness but of a kind of sophistication totally lacking within the present milieu.
I noticed when Tim Burgess adopted a falsetto vocal style on The Charlatans' new single, A Man Needs to Be Told, in late 2001. I allude to this because whilst having lunch at Anong Villas in Mae Nam the video appeared, courtesy of MTV, on the modest television hanging off the wall. My lady friend could also hear it from her position of the beach directly behind me, as could my fainting friend from the balcony of his bungalow straight in front. It was a wonderful shared moment between the three of us
In between is Willow’s Song off of The Wicker Man soundtrack. Prior to my travels, I’d worked for an audio-visual company dealing in projectors and plasma screens. The friend who used to own a pager availed himself of the opportunity to purchase an ex-demo projector on the cheap. One of the first films we watched upon it was The Wicker Man, which inspired the guy who bought the projector to buy The Wicker Man soundtrack. It comprises of folk music mainly, much of it amusing, a little bit saucy, and sometimes sinister.
The folksy ambiance of Willow’s Song complements the ‘country’ feel of A Man Needs to Be Told. Tim Burgess’s vocal may take its lead from Curtis Mayfield but the steel guitar is pure country rock, which is why I've followed on with Neil Young. I first heard Old Man in the car of our friends from Acton whilst driving down to the New Forest to watch Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me on our other friend's projector. Alas, the generator we hired to facilitate this scheme ran out of petrol not even half way through. It was still worth the effort of digging a shallow trench for the generator and breaking our backs lugging the thing through the woods to find an appropriately remote clearing to set the whole thing up, if only because I can barely believe we attempted such a thing.
When we got back to UK, I discovered that our Cornish friend, who returned home early, had purchased Four Thousand Seven Hundred and Sixty-Six Seconds - a Short Cut to Teenage Fanclub, which introduced me to Everything Flows, one of their earlier records – their first, in fact – and not so typical of the sound they would become more associated with. Teenage Fanclub are big fans of Big Star, whose song For You, which I have included here, is neither particularly representative of their sound. Nor have either group’s musical aberrations strayed in the same direction: Everything Flows is more abrasive than the work that followed, whereas For You is gentler than what preceded it. I was coming at Big Star from the wrong angle, but their third LP, entitled Third (aka Sister Lovers), was all that Richmond Library had. For You aside, I recall feeling a little underwhelmed by the album and haven’t listened to it since.
The nascent Acton and Chiswick scene of 2001 really started to take off in 2003. It was to do with a friend of my lady friend and her boyfriend moving to Acton (let’s call them by their now married name: ‘The Wilkinsons’) and friends of theirs subsequently moving to Chiswick. Two of these other friends shared a house, known to us as The Grosvenor, just west of Turnham Green. Its position brought us into contact with other drinking establishments: The (World Famous) John Bull, The Pilot, The Bell & Crown down by the river in Strand-on-the-Green, as well as The Raven up the road in Stamford Brook. Parties at The Grosvenor became a thing of legend. When I think of that house now I am reminded musically of The Flaming Lips and The Polyphonic Spree (Hey Ya! by Outkast also springs to mind). I never got around to recording a copy of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots by The Flaming Lips, but I did The Beginning Stages of... by The Polythonic Spree. Within the context of this compilation, Hanging Around the Day provides a bridge across from For You by Big Star to...
The sixth episode of the first season of the television series Six Feet Under – entitled The Room – sees Nate finding out that his late father used to occasionally trade funeral services for favours, among them the supply of marijuana and the use of an apartment above an Indian restaurant. Having been completely oblivious to any of this whilst his father was alive, Nate visits the room in question and has a look around before placing the needle onto what was presumably the last record his old man ever listened to, which turns out to be Journey to the Center of the Mind by The Amboy Dukes. Diegesis fades into non-diegesis as Nate imagines what his father might have got up to there: getting stoned with a group of hell’s angels, being pleasured by a hooker, firing a high powered rifle from the window at passers-by below. The song itself is comprised of a poppy melody backed by 60s garage rock guitars and frantic drum work.
Party at the Grosvenor
Vang Vieng, Laos. Whilst taking lunch in Xoyoh Cafe I’m privy to the music playing in the restaurant across the road, which will comprise, for the duration I sit there, of the Beastie Boys, Curtis Mayfield, all of Rubber Soul by The Beatles, and Wild Horses by the Stones. I am already familiar with much of this music but not so much Curtis Mayfield, although the guy who returned from Asia early does have a compilation of his, which I assume is from where I obtained the tune Freddie’s Dead.
Back to North Devon. I couldn’t decide which tune I liked more: Sing This All Together or Citadel. The fact that barely a split second separates them on the album gave me a mandate to include them both. They are very different tunes. The former is indicative of the experimental psychedelia that was fashionable at the time, the latter points towards the rock that the Stones would settle on for much of the rest of their career.
I am mostly indifferent to Beck, but Sea Change is very good album. My lady friend bought a copy on the Khao San Road in Bangkok. It wasn’t long before this cheap forgery started jumping and twitching, but not before I’d recorded Lonesome Tears onto my MiniDisc, preserved for posterity.
As I’ve said, I quite like The Doors, but I didn’t own any of their records prior to travelling. This was probably a good thing because they might otherwise have been deprived of any previous association. Instead, The Doors recall bars in Bangkok and beaches on Koh Phangan and driving around New Zealand’s North Island, which are nice connotations to have. Indeed, there was an actual ‘Doors Bar’ in Haad Rin, which offered welcome sanctuary from the relentless dance music that played in the surrounding establishments. Furthermore, the song LA Women is in keeping with the strain of Americana that features throughout this compilation: Neil Young, Big Star, The Byrd’s and The Amboy Dukes, as well as Beck and The Charlatans doing country and western. And then there’s The Monkees, although I’m not sure they’re imbued with so much Americana, given the band’s conceptual nature.
Haad Rin: just out of shot to the left is a bar that only plays The Doors.
After just shy of four months spent wandering around Southeast Asia (comprising of just over two weeks in Laos, almost three in Cambodia and the rest in Thailand) my lady friend and I flew to New Zealand, which was a culture shock in reverse. The first week in Auckland was all well and good: the America’s Cup was wrapping up, the sun was shining and there was a buzz about the place. The girl who used to live with my lady friend on the Isle of Dogs flew in from the UK to embark on her latest round of travelling, and after a few days of mild revelry we hired a car and drove south.
By the time we got to Rotorua it was teeming it down. Everything seemed very bleak all of a sudden. I began to suffer a mild depression, not to mention alcohol withdrawal; it was too expensive to drink like I’d done in Southeast Asia, which was excessively. I had begun to tire of living out of a very small rucksack, always wearing the same shabby clothes – attire geared towards a sunnier climate. At the same time, the idea of returning home wasn’t very appealing, to find a job and to live nine-to-five and endure the British weather and all the rest of it. I wanted to be sat on a jetty in Hua Hin late at night, watching storms drifting along the horizon.
We were sat in an Irish bar in Rotorua, me nursing a solitary pint, when Let’s Make this Precious by Dexys Midnight Runners began to play. It meant something, although I’m not sure what. Let’s make this precious. New Zealand is a beautiful place and I enjoyed my time there, just as I would eventually go on to enjoy the company of friends, and maybe even the British weather, once I returned home and settled down to it.